Thunder Bay

University residences 'quieter' this year due to COVID-19 restrictions

Academic settings at all levels have been completely reshaped this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including university and college residences.

Lakehead University might consider lifting some COVID-19 restrictions once risk levels are assessed

At the beginning of the month students at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay Ont. began settling into their dorms as the school year kicked off. This year staff year residence capacity has been limited to 300 students as opposed to the usual 1,100, and visitor restrictions have been put into place amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Academic settings at all levels have been completely reshaped this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including university and college residences.

The director of residential services at Lakehead University says while the year has got off to a positive start, the absence of the usual beginning of the year festivities, such as organized events and parties, is felt on campus.

"You know, we have a very vibrant residence life program here at Lakehead … It's a lot, you know, a lot quieter. I mean, I'm looking outside my office window right now and I don't see a single student walking by. And normally this time of day you would see lots of students coming to and from class," said Shannon Foster.

But, it's a lot quieter on the northwestern Ontario campus for good reason. Many restrictions within residence buildings have been put in place, which aim to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Foster said this year residence capacity has been limited to 300 students as opposed to the usual 1,100, and visitor restrictions have also been put in place for students.

"So only students that live in each building can be in each building. And what that does is, is it allows us to properly, you know, contact trace if there's any issues, as well as isolating any students, if there's any issues," Foster said.

There have also been similar changes for students living in residence on campus at Confederation College in the city. The college has reduced its residence capacity by roughly half, and new safety and visitor restriction protocols have been enacted in residence buildings.

When it comes to compliance of new COVID-19 rules, Foster said his "dreams have come true," as students diligently adhere to restrictions.

The winter months, however, might see more challenges, and the university might consider lifting some restrictions once the risk is assessed.

"I don't know if we can … keep that going for eight more months because they're going to the mall, and they're just walking with people from another building, and they're going out to dinner with people from another building. So, it almost seems counterintuitive to be too restrictive," said Foster.

When it comes to restriction enforcement, Foster said the university is taking a more "educational" approach with students. He said there is consequences in place if rules are broken, such as the loss of visitor privileges, but hopes those repercussions can be avoided.

"We all are in this together to make our home safe for the next seven months … eight months and beyond."

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